Or get knocked down. Either way, Shero's logic is hard to fault: "If you keep the opposition on their butts, they don't score goals." So much for defense. Offensively, the Flyers excel at another rough, rudimentary skill: dumping the puck into the corners and going in after it, no holds—or elbows, knees, forearms, sticks, fists—barred. Winger Kelly, whose scarred brows are testament to his duties, says, "A lot of us are not what you'd call smooth skaters. I guess you'd call our style helter-skelter."
Helter-skelter, hit and hurt, it is all as plain as the stripes on a referee's shirt. "There is nothing mystical about the way Philadelphia plays," says Montreal Goalie Ken Dry-den, "but they're very effective. They just sort of come at you and the person who comes at you more than anybody is Bobby Clarke."
And therein, says Terry Crisp, hand still figuratively on heart, lies Clarke's chief virtue as Captain Inspiration. "When our club is groping and gasping along," says Crisp, "Bobby comes to the fore. That's what you mean by leadership. Leadership isn't walking around before the game, smacking guys on the back, telling them to go out there and win one for the Gipper. Leadership is making a big play when you really need it. Leadership is Bobby's desire to win. He does so much, so well. Listen, he'd drive the ice-cleaning machine if they wanted him to."
And so the sermonettes go in Philadelphia. Ultimately, though, whatever it is that makes Bobby Clarke a little special and causes all these hard-nosed men to carry on so about one of the most stultifying topics in sports—leadership—is perhaps best summed up by Ed Snider, a front-office realist who showed his concern for soul after the Flyers' first Stanley Cup by raising ticket prices 50%.
The secret, says Snider, is that " Bobby Clarke has no outstanding talents. When our guys see someone like Bobby Orr or Guy Lafleur or Gilbert Perreault, players with such great natural gifts, they know they could never be like them no matter how hard they tried. But when they see Bobby, they think, 'Hey, I can do that.' They feel they can do everything he can do if they just put out the same effort."
If that effort sometimes results in the kind of violence that demeans the sport, it can be argued that it is not the Flyers' "exuberance" but the league's permissiveness that is to blame. Or, as Shero contends, "Success requires no explanations, failure presents no alibis." So while the NHL continues to ponder, the Flyers figure to keep exploiting every weakness they can find, including the slow whistle. Shero has a saying for that tactic as well: "He that will not when he may, he shall not when he will."
You figure it out. The Flyers gave up trying to long ago. They call Shero Mr. X, the Phantom and the Fog. He is a study in burnt sienna. His hair, his complexion, his suits and tinted glasses all are of a dark reddish hue that seems to mask a man of mystery—and savvy mischief. During one game he stopped the action by blithely tossing a handful of change on the ice. "What the hell," he says, "the refs knew where it came from and we needed the rest."
In marked contrast to the mayhem he presides over, Shero is an extraordinarily placid man. His prolonged blinks have been officially timed as naps, and when he resurfaces it is often to say things like, "Sometimes you lose by winning," or, "We play cerebral, not physical, hockey," or, "To really coach, you've got to be miserable in winter and more miserable in summer." Yes, one can understand the strains and pressures of a long season, but why the misery in summer? "Because I'm not coaching." Oh.
But mostly Shero saves his confounding Confucianisms for the Flyer blackboard, where he is forever scribbling such bulletins as, "Only a mediocre person is always at his best," and "An oak tree is just a nut that held its ground." To the latter. Winger Gary Dornhoefer appended, "If you walk with your head in the clouds and keep your feet on the ground, you can make a million dollars in the National Basketball Association."
"It's just the way I am," says Shero of his stoic, enigmatic ways. "I hate showing my emotions in public. That's why I sit in my basement alone or go for long walks by myself." After one wee-hours stroll in Atlanta during the 1974 playoffs, Shero woke up with a broken thumb, a gashed arm, assorted bruises and no recollection of what had happened. "I don't know if I had a fight in a bar," he said, "but if I did it wouldn't be the first time. I remember the word 'animal' upset me."